Being colour blind ended my pilot dreams but opened up mining Down Under
‘Sometimes I get a trip to a mine site which can be interesting and hot!’
Niall Prendergast, originally from Rathfarnham in Dublin now lives in Brisbane Australia where he works as a reliability engineer for Komatsu Australia
Niall Prendergast, originally from Rathfarnham in Dublin, now lives in Brisbane, Australia where he works as a reliability engineer for Komatsu Australia, which provides equipment for Australian contractors, quarries, miners and farmers in Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.
When did you leave Ireland?
I left in November 2014. At the time I was working in Belfast in the aerospace industry designing a new aircraft. The work was interesting as I love all things aviation, but I didn’t see a long-term future with the company. I also had an itch to travel which needed to be scratched. Once I had two years’ experience under my belt and finished my time as a graduate engineer I decided to embark on an adventure and head abroad. I knew I needed more work experience and didn’t want to simply travel and work backpacker jobs, so I looked at places where I could get engineering work and explore a new part of the world.
Did you study in Ireland?
I began my studies in DIT Bolton Street where I did mechanical engineering. The aim was to complete this and then progress to complete the Bachelor of Engineering (a total of five years). I have a love for aviation and always wanted to be a pilot, so after three years the plan changed, and I decided to graduate and a become a pilot. After some interviews and exams, I was offered a place in flight school, I was delighted. The last hurdle was to complete a medical which I predicted would be a walk in the park, unfortunately it wasn’t, and I failed based on my colour vision. With my world turned upside down and the economy at its lowest, I had limited options. I decided to study aeronautical engineering in the University of Limerick.
You went to work in Australia not England, why?
There were opportunities for work in the UK, but it didn’t appeal to me. I have had many visits to the UK growing up, but it never appealed to me as a place to live. My thoughts were that if I was going to leave Ireland to work and travel I wanted it to be an adventure, to choose somewhere with a strong economy and good weather. Australia had a great visa available for graduate engineers, meaning I wouldn’t need company sponsorship to work or have to any fruit picking. It ticked all my boxes. With my decision made, I applied for my visa, once approved I booked flights and handed in my notice. The adventure began.
You started off in Sydney. Why and what did you do?
I started in Sydney as I had been once before for a holiday with family. I didn’t follow the backpacker trail; my focus was to gain a job in engineering as soon as possible, so initially I took a job in a call-centre selling credit cards while I applied for other jobs. Sydney was great fun, but so expensive, so I couldn’t afford to sit around and be picky with jobs. It took about six months to get an engineering job.
Tell us about Brisbane.
I kept an open mind about where I would end up in Australia so applied for jobs all over. Finally, I was successful and gained a role in Brisbane. I settled into life in Brisbane easily. Brisbane is a great city, people in Melbourne and Sydney will say “why are you going there? It’s a big country town.”.The reality of the situation is, if you live in Brisbane it’s more affordable, there’s a great outdoors lifestyle, you can rely on sunshine nearly every day of the year and there’s a massive selection of beaches up and down the beautiful coastline. For an Irish person winter doesn’t even exist here, I only need a light coat for about two weeks a year. The people up here are a lot friendlier than the massive cities too.
You are now in mining?
Most of the customers I support are in Queensland and operate in the construction industry or coal mining. I’m office-based in Brisbane, but sometimes I do get a trip to a mine site which can be interesting and hot. My current role is a reliability engineer for Komatsu Australia. We work with our customers to ensure they are getting the very best out of our machines so maintaining machine availability and keeping machine downtime due to faults or failures to a minimum.
What does your day look like?
My average day can vary from meetings in the office to carrying out an inspection of a failed component in the workshop, writing reports or attending a customer meeting in the city. Our site does have many workshops where repairs and servicing are carried out, our largest would be similar to an aircraft hangar in size.
Do the Irish fit in well in Brisbane?
I think the Irish fit in well wherever we go. Most of us are quite respectful and have a good work ethic combined with high level of education and trade training. Due to those factors we always find work and make friends easily enough. I’ve been lucky and made some great friends over here, Irish Australian and other nationalities.
Do you think working abroad has offered you greater opportunities?
For sure. As much as I love and miss Ireland, I can confidently stay if I stayed at home I would not have had the opportunities I have had here. Partly due the economy at the time, the degree I chose to study and type of work I was persuing.
Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?
Obviously, family and friends. It can be tough sometimes being so far away especially around big events. I’ve missed weddings, funerals, birthdays and births. Unfortunately, you just can’t make it home for them, that is the downside of my decision to live so far away. It’s something you have accept and never gets easier. I find making sure you have your next trip home in planning helps, even if it’s a year away you have something to plan and look forward to.
If you work in an interesting career overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email email@example.com with a little information about you and what you do.